A Journey During Troubled Times
My trip to Jerusalem was one of my mortal attempts to get closer to God. I read on various articles that most people that visit the Holy Land return home transformed; however, I didn’t think that would happen to me.
Truth is , my aunt and I traveled to Israel in the midst of the COVID 19 pandemic and we were in foreign land when travel bans were put in place across the world.
In more ways than one, it has become an undeniable journey of faith. A journey that is taking far longer than the anticipated ten day itinerary provided by our tour guide. You see…right before I departed to Israel from the US, I got laid off from my job of 19 years only to return back home to a worldwide pandemic.
It’s August 2020 as I write this post. Unemployment is 10.4%. News are reporting over 703,000 deaths alone in the United States. Life has changed. For all. We wear face masks everywhere we go…if we get to go anywhere. Bars, gyms, schools, churches…anywhere that can’t handle enforcing a 6 feet distance between people, remain closed. “Social distance” has become the phrase of the year.
I perhaps took too long to come to terms with what’s happening in the world right now but I’m now ready to write about my journey. Below you will see a summary of our itinerary and a list of sites, attractions and landmarks you don’t want to miss! I’ll link as much information as possible so you can look into it should you want to learn more. Enjoy!
Our Trip to Israel
Our adventure began upon arrival at Tel Aviv airport in March! My aunt Ileana and I spent the next 10 days together! She traveled from Panama while I flew from the US.
Once we landed, we headed to Mount Zion Hotel which turned out to be a charming boutique hotel located in a very centric and historical setting in Jerusalem. My favorite part about the hotel is that it overlooked the green valleys of the city and gave us a glimpse of what to expect next.
Jerusalem is one of the oldest cities in the world. It is divided into four quarters: Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Armenian. For being a city that has been destroyed and fought for multiple times, it is fascinating to see how they have all learned to co-exist amid their differences.
Both Israel and Palestine claim Jerusalem as their capital. About 64% of its population is Jewish, 33% is Muslim and 2% Christian.
Holy Sepulchre Church
Located in the Christian Quarter of the Old City, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is significant as it encloses Jesus’ tomb. Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Armenian Apostolic are the main Christian denominations that control the church.
A “fun” fact our tour guide shared with us is that as a result of conflicts among the various Christian entities governing the church, it is ultimately a Muslim family that opens and closes the building ever day. I thought that was hilarious! (Not really…but you know what I mean..)
Via Dolorosa (Sorrowful Way)
Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem is a place of pilgrimage for millions of Christians around the world. This the path Jesus walked right before being crucified to pay for our sins.
As a Christian Catholic, I expected this part of the trip to be a more spiritual experience but that was not the case. Souvenir shops and large crowds make it hard to meditate on Him while walking the narrow and uneven path.
We almost missed the stations of the cross (marked on the walls) with all the distractions going on around us.
I clearly remember the moment my aunt and I suddenly realized that we were standing on Via Dolorosa. You’d think we would have immediately recognized it as faithful (although imperfect) Christians but nope, we had to be told…
That’s the moment I took the picture with Ileana below. It was unreal. I desperately wanted to quiet my mind and form a proper prayer but it was too overwhelming. This is also where I felt the absence of my aunt Gisela the most, I wish she would have been there…
We ultimately moved on but not without knowing that we would meditate on this experience for years to come. Even now, as I blog about it thousands of miles away from Arizona…
“Be still and know that I am God”Psalm 46:10
The Israel Museum
The Israel Museum is located in the newer part of Jerusalem. For the most part, I’m not your museum kinda girl. Personally, I prefer the outdoors as opposed to enclosed buildings BUT this site should NOT be missed.
Among some of the most remarkable exhibits are the Shrine of the Book (wing in the museum that houses the Dead Sea Scrolls), and a replica of the Old City Jerusalem during Biblical times.
Western Wall (Also knows as the Wailing Wall)
The Western Wall is one of the holiest sites of the Jewish people. In Judaism, this site holds significant importance as a result of its proximity to the Temple Mount as there are entry restrictions in place.
For centuries, the Jewish people have approached this site in remembrance of the destruction of the Second Jewish Tempe built by Herod the Great. The Jewish Temple was destroyed for the second time in year 70 A.D. but despite this, all four of the Temple Mount support walls remain standing.
People of all faith can approach the Wall; however, men and women have different entries and pray separately. Also, to comply with tradition, you will want to write a prayer on a small piece of paper and place it within the cracks of the Wall.
Compared to Via Dolorosa, the Western Wall does a better job at keeping the site organized despite it being a highly touristic attraction. There are no souvenir shops and only those of Jewish faith can enter the area on Saturdays.
Masada and Dead Sea
After 5 days in Jerusalem, we headed to our next destination, the Dead Sea. We continued our trip via bus and we fueled ourselves with M&Ms!
“The Lord your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands. He has watched over your journey through this vast wilderness. These forty years the Lord your God has been with you, and you have not lacked anything.”Deuteronomy 2:7
Masada is located in the Southern District of Israel and it overlooks the Dead Sea. The bus drive from Jerusalem to this historic destination is about 2 hours and incredibly convenient if you are on your way to the Dead Sea.
The Masada National Park welcomes tourists wanting to see the ruins of the fortress and two palaces that Herod the Great built back in 37 BCE. You can access the ruins located at the top of the mountain via cable car although some may opt for the hiking option. Either way, you will want to come prepared with appropriate shoes as there is some light uphill walking involved.
Upon arrival to the Dead Sea Region, we checked in at the Daniel Dead Sea Hotel. While we thought our accommodations were great in Jerusalem, we were certainly treated in the Dead Sea region!
This property had more of a spa / resort feel to it. It has an indoor and outside pool, a spa, and a fitness room. NOTHING beat the view from our room though!
Here is the first fun fact. The Dead Sea is not a sea, it’s actually a large lake! The salt density is over 34% which prevents animals and plants to live in it, hence it’s popular name…”Dead Sea”; however, microbial life is present in the water.
Unfortunately, my aunt and I did not prepare well for this part of the trip. We left our swimming suits at home thinking that we would be content with just dipping our feet in the water…NOT! You will want to experience floating in the salty water. I’ve been to many oceans and lakes but there is nothing like it. If you need a little more motivation, its water is known around the world for its healing and rejuvenating properties!
Jordan Valley / In Route to Galilee
After our night in the Dead Sea area we departed to the Galilee region. The bus trip with no stops is about 6.5 hours but our itinerary included stops in several places that included Beit Alpha, Beit She’an, and Yardenit.
Beit Alpha National Park
This site displays an ancient synagogue with impressive mosaics. The first part of a tour includes a 15 minute video that explains the creation of the Zodiac wheel mosaic.
You will only need about 45 minutes to appreciate the history behind this synagogue before moving on to the next landmark.
Beit She’an National Park
Beith She’an is a city located in the Northern District of Israel. In this impressive National Park you will find the remains of an amphitheater and ruins from a Roman city destroyed by a massive earthquake in the 700s.
From a Biblical perspective, Saul and his sons were hung from the city walls during the battle of the Israelites against the Philistines (1 Samuel 31: 10)
Overall, if you enjoy seeing historical and archeological sties while being outdoors, this is a stop you don’t want to miss. This National Park is easy to navigate and you’ll be able to get souvenirs on your way out in the gift shop.
Yardenit Baptismal Site
Our last stop before making it to our hotel was this baptism site by the Jordan River in the northern region of Israel. Christian pilgrims often frequent this site and the entrance is free.
While this is a must see landmark, Jesus baptism didn’t take place in Yardenit. According to the Bible, John baptized Jesus by the Jordan River in the region of Judea and close by to Jerusalem which is south of Yardenit.
“Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John.”Matthew 3:13
Yardenit turned out to be one of our favorite places to visit in Israel. This area of Galilee is quiet, green and peaceful. Flowers were blooming and the environment allowed for inner reflection.
That evening we checked in at our hotel. The property is located at the top of the mountains in the Galilean region. I’ll say, the drive up is absolutely breathtaking! Make sure you don’t fall asleep so you can enjoy the sight!
Church of Beatitudes
Next , we headed to the Church of Beatitudes. My aunt and I were particularly excited to visit this Roman Catholic Church that over looked the Northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee.
It is believed that this is the place where Jesus delivered the popular Sermon of the Mount, which is a beautiful collection of teachings for those who follow Him. What make this sermon even more significant and powerful is that many from other faiths also relate to Jesus’ message as a guide to live, treat each other with love, and earn the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”Matthew 5:3
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted“Matthew 5:4
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth”Matthew 5: 5
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled”Matthew 5: 6
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy”Matthew 5: 7
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God”Matthew 5:8
Located in the North Eastern part, Golan Heights was captured by Israel during the Six Day War back in 1967.
We took the photo below at the top of Mount Bental in an area where we could see the border with Syria. This mountain was a strategic point during the Yom Kipur War of 1973 and the site still displays some of the former Israeli bunkers.
Nazareth and Haifa (In route to Tel Aviv)
While the New Testament in the Bible describes at length that Jesus is a “Nazarene”, today Nazareth is considered the “Arab Capital of Israel”.
Nazareth’s inhabitants, signs and shops were predominantly Arab with a population that is 69% Muslim and 31% Christian. A lot can change in over 2000 years!
Church of Annunciation
This Basilica is one of the few Catholic Churches in Nazareth. From a Catholic perspective, I’d say that this is the main attraction in Nazareth.
According to the Bible, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth and appeared to the Virgin Mary to announce that she would give brith to Jesus, the son of God.
Baha’i Gardens in Haifa
Haifa is Israel’s third largest city after Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. It’s located in the northwestern part of Israel and it overlooks the Mediterranean Sea.
Haifa is also known for its main port which you can see in the photo below taken from the Baha’i Gardens. Not only this garden is a main attraction for millions of tourists but it’s also a destination of pilgrimage for those of Baha’i’s faith.
Unfortunately, we were not able to access the garden amid the COVID 19 pandemic; however, we were fortunate to enjoy the view from the main entrance area. Make sure not to miss this impressive site when in Haifa!
Baha’i Garden was the last attraction we enjoyed before heading to our hotel in Tel Aviv. By this time of our trip, the pandemic had already resulted in travel bans around the world and we were taking pro active measures to keep a safe social distance.
If you are looking for a centric hotel in Tel Aviv, check out Dan Panorama Tel Aviv Hotel. Not only it offered many amenities but the staff was exceptional and ready to assist. I highly recommend!
Last Reflecting Comments
While 2020 has turned out to be an unprecedented year for all of us, I hope you are holding on to your faith. I know I am; otherwise, I would have not been able to write this post and rejoice from the memories of this trip while the world is fighting COVID 19.
As a Christian Catholic, I learned about Jesus from the complex pages of the Bible. My entire life’s hopes are grounded on the teaching’s of this book and I was finally able to experience the Holy Land where it all took place.
My hope for you, is that you too can one day visit the Holy Land, regardless of your faith or religion. That you are curious to learn more about what beautiful Israel has to share to the world and inspire to start planning your journey. I hope this post provides a glimpse of what you can expect when you plan your journey.
This much I know. I may or may not be able to return to the Holy Land again but the city that never stops praying will remain in my heart forever.
Thank you for reading and I’d love to hear your comments! Don’t forget to subscribe and follow me in social media for more posts!